Many Americans and Europeans head to the Caribbean when they need some R&R. And don’t get me wrong—I love St. Barths, the Bahamas, Barbados, and the BVI. But I wanted to know where people in the Caribbean go when they want to get away. The answer: Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic). Dominica is one of the largest islands in the Caribbean, but it also remains one of the least populated. Nicknamed the “Nature Island” you’ll find a lot more here than beautiful sand beaches. Here are just a few reasons I can’t stop dreaming about my next trip back.
1. You can snorkel in “Champagne” bubbles. Ever wonder what it’s like to swim in a pool of Champagne? Dominica’s volcanic activity has created underwater geothermal springs that vent gasses in the form of thousands of warm bubbles. When you visit Champagne Beach, one of the Caribbean’s top snorkel sites, you’ll spot hawksbill turtles, parrot fish, sea anemones, and tons of fizzy bubbles that stream up from the sea floor. It’s nature’s Jacuzzi.
2. You can hike to a boiling lake. Nine of the Caribbean’s sixteen active volcanoes are located on the island of Dominica. Take in some of the volcanic action at one of only two of the world’s boiling lakes. To reach this vapor-clouded geothermic wonder, requires a six to seven hour hike that starts in Laudat and winds through jungley UNESCO World Heritage land, past sulfur springs and rainforest. When you reach the Valley of Desolation, where the lake lies, you’ll feel like you’re on another planet rather than a Caribbean island.
3. You’ll learn how to live to 100-plus. Dominica has the highest percentage of centenarians per capita in the world. One woman reached the ripe old age of 128. Researchers attribute the longevity to the healthy local diet and active, stress-free lifestyle. It’s easy to forgo sweets when you have tropical fruits such as soursop, passion fruit, guava, mango, and custard apple falling off of trees.
4. You can swim under a waterfall. Spectacular waterfalls are hidden throughout the island. The most dramatic, Middleham Falls, requires an hour to hour-and-a-half hike from Laudat. The trail winds through the heart of the rainforest of the Morne Trois Piton National Park. That trail can get pretty steep and slippery, but your efforts are rewarded when you reach the nearly 300 feet of cascading water where you can dive in for a swim under the falls.
5. You can sleep in a treehouse. Chain hotels and large resorts haven’t made their way to Dominica. Instead, you’ll find mom-and-pop eco-hotels and boutique properties with loads of character. Secret Bay will fulfill your Swiss Family Robinson fantasies with cliffside treehouse-like villas surrounded by lush jungle. Each villa is stocked ahead of time with local organic fruits and a chef prepares in-villa meals such as local fish steamed in coconut with root vegetables. The owner, Gregory Nassief, was born on the island and knows all of the best spots to explore.
6. You’ll love the locals. There’s no cookie-cutter, canned tourism on Dominica. Guides are real locals who are happy to share their personal stories and the island’s rasta spirit (don’t be surprised if your guide asks if you want to smoke pot before hiking to the waterfalls). Rastaman Bobby Frederick (you can email him at email@example.com to set up a tour) is nearly 70 but kicked my butt on the hike to Middleham Falls. He took me to his favorite local music joint. My other rasta friend, Fire, took me on a boat tour of the Indian River, a nature reserve featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Genuine hospitality at its best.
© 2016 AFAR Media